Despite Iran’s Intelligence Ministry insisting there is no proof to suggest that the environmentalists who have been detained were involved in espionage against their homeland, their attorney sees no breakthrough in his clients’ situation.
At least 13 environmentalists, charged with espionage for “enemies,” have been behind bars since January 24.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) intelligence organization also detained more than 40 environmentalists, rangers, and their relatives on May 7 and 8 in Hormozgan Province, southern Iran.
State-run TV aired a report to justify the detentions, showing a stick that it claimed the environmentalists had used as an “antenna” to relay “secret information” to the CIA and Mossad.
However, according to the environmentalists’ attorney, Payam Dorafshan, the so-called “antenna” shown on TV is in fact a fishing rod that Kavous Seyed-Emami and his family used to position a radio so that they could listen to the news and music while spending time in the countryside.
Earlier, it was also claimed that the environmentalists had installed cameras in sensitive locations to monitor IRGC missile activities.
Isa Kalantari, head of the Environment Department and President Hassan Rouhani’s deputy, dismissed the claim by firing back, “Environmental cameras cannot be used for espionage purposes. Environmental cameras that monitor leopards’ activity have a range of no more than 50 meters (roughly 55 yards).”
Seyed-Emami, founder of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, was an Iranian-Canadian academic and environmental activist whose death at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison has been described as suspicious.
Along with several other environmentalists, he was charged with espionage and detained by IRGC agents in late January. Two weeks later, on February 9, Seyed-Emami’s relatives were informed that he had committed suicide.
Seyed-Emami’s fellow environmentalists Morteza Arianejad, Niloufar Bayani, Alireza Farhadzadeh, Taher Ghadirian, Houman Jowkar, Sepideh Kashani, Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, Hassan Ragh, Sam Rajabi, Iranian-American Morad Tahbaz, and brothers Aref and Hassan Zare are still behind bars.
Nevertheless, many observers, including Tehran MP and deputy speaker of the parliament Ali Motahari, have repeatedly argued that the only department responsible for espionage and counterespionage is the Intelligence Ministry.
“The IRGC’s involvement in espionage and counterespionage affairs is explicitly against the Iranian Constitution,” Motahari said.
Considered the most fearsome intelligence entity in Iran, the IRGC unit expanded its dominance after the reformist Mohammad Khatami won the presidential election in 1997. It has since detained scores of political and civil rights activists, including individuals affiliated with religious-national activists and the Iran Freedom Movement.
It played a pivotal role in suppressing widespread unrest and protests against the re-election of Mahmud Ahmadinejad in 2009. At the same time, Khamenei issued an edict promoting the IRGC intelligence apparatus to the level of an “organization” practically on par with the government’s Intelligence Ministry.
However, analysts and legal experts maintain that the existence of the Intelligence Organization -- and, specifically, its interference in cases related to espionage -- explicitly violates the Iranian Constitution.
In the meantime, Seyed-Emami’s wife has been banned from leaving Iran and joining her children in Canada.
Ramin, one of the sons of Seyed-Emami and his wife, Maryam Mombini, says his mother has been living alone since the authorities barred her from leaving Iran on March 7.
“The trauma stemming from her husband’s death on February 8 has caused her extreme physiological distress,” said Ramin, who lives in Vancouver. “She has been going through so much emotionally and physically. And she doesn’t have her family to support her through this devastating time.”
In an interview with the Vancouver Sun Ramin, also said, “We just want her out of there, to get on with our lives.”
The Iranian judiciary has not yet commented on Mombini’s situation or why she has been banned from leaving Iran.